Shot, But Not In The Dark – Interview with Paul Gearside, storyboard artist

By - CTL
February 23, 2017
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Image: Paul (Gunna) Gearside – artist in residence

The life & times of a gun storyboard artist

How do television commercials get shot? Usually the supplier of a product or service or an entity wanting to make an announcement employs an agency of some kind to produce material designed to connect with a particular audience. Simple. Once upon a time the decision was television first and then, what’s second? These days the decision is not so clear-cut. But a lot of tvc’s are still getting made. The client briefs the agency. The agency ‘team’ whirs into action and in due course, if the recommended media plan includes television, it produces at the very least a script and perhaps a storyboard.

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Image: Bringing BIGPOND to life

The storyboard is meant to help the client appreciate & understand the agencies vision. In some cases it may even translate into a shooting board. (More of this later.) So they are an important part of the film making mix. Many of Hollywood’s best directors credit the storyboard as being an integral part of their films success as this excellent article by Alex Bigman of 99designs attests.

Who are the great storyboard artists behind some of Australia’s most successful and most loved television commercials? (Drum roll). Paul (Gunna) Gearside has for many years listened patiently to some the wildest, cleverest, stupidest, bravest, and/or funniest ideas from many of Australia’s most lauded & awarded creative talent.

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Image: Some ideas fly, others hop

Although Paul is more a drawer than a talker, crossingtheline.co did manage to extract a few thoughts from him during a recent coffee shop interview.

CTL: “In the beginning you were …….”

GUNNA: “…… in the very beginning I painted backgrounds for animated TV shows then was an “inbetweener” (animator’s assistant ) then animator for a minute. I worked at Eric Porter Studios and Hanna Barbara in the days before computers. Along with the other guys we were the FX Department. One of those guys, Warwick Gilbert, was the base player for Radio Birdman. Their unofficial home and venue was a pub in Sydney’s Taylor Square which they renamed the Oxford Funhouse. That was in my punk days and it kind of set the stage (no pun) for how I got into advertising, the early work I did and how I did it. It was a crazy good time without too many rules Rock and Roll advertising.

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Image: Oxford Fun House painting for the Art of Radio Birdman and friends exhibition

Click above to revisit that seventies music

GUNNA: “When I was having thoughts of doing something else besides animation I was sharing a house at McMahons Point with Chrissy Doyle. She was working at Hawkins Advertising and she said she’d ask around the office about how I should approach it.

There was a young guy there working in the finished art studio who lent me half a dozen old print ads he’d glued up to take to my interview. It was at Fortune advertising. I put them on the desk of the interviewer and proclaimed, “This is what I can do!” I got the job …… to the young finished artist … thanks Rocky. From there I went to Harris Robinson Courtney as an art director where I worked with the great Mike Robinson and knocked up layouts for Bryce Courtenay and first worked Jimmy Scaysbrook. Rob Belgiovane joined HRC around that time and we’ve become lifelong friends (so far anyway!). I worked at Connaghan & May for a while then O&M with Strephyn Mappin we worked on Streets Ice Cream often in tandum with another team, Jimmy Scaysbrook (again) and Paul Wiseman they worked two floors above the “Surgery” which was the name of the bar at O&M Streph and I had a little windowless room opposite the “Surgery”. Jim and Wise devised a communications plan. They fashioned a box that held a six pack and glued long fake gold hair around the rim. They then attached a rope to it, Streph and my job was to call them each afternoon at three to make the request. “Repunzel Repunzel let down your hair”. We’d then sneak intop the “Surgery” and fill Repunzel with beer. It was then hauled up two floors into their office under the pretext of taking a brief. We’d then join them to drink the spoils. They were thirsty times. I then went on to work with ‘Chris Changa Lengdon’ at Schofield Sherbon Baker. Chris and I worked mainly on the NSW building society with my hero Dennis Lilly as the presenter.

Eighteen months later I got the call from Jimmy Schyes saying  “there’s an opening at Mojo and they want us”. An awesome time.

41d38cba-b24a-4217-84fc-ced8b363894dImage: Fishing with Jimmy Scaysbrook and Michael Robinson on middle harbour

CTL: “And there were some pretty good clients to work on?”

GUNNA: (Laughs) “There were. At Mojo I worked on TVC’s for Australian Grand Prix, Tooheys 2.2, Emu Export, NSW Lotteries, Shelley’s Soft Drinks, World Series Cricket and OTC.” (What Telstra was called before it was Telstra). Jim and I went to Adelaide for a recce with Alan Jones the Australian Formula One Champ. A wild three days of eating and drinking followed. We were shooting racing footage for next year’s grand prix commercial but what I remember was George Harrison smiling at me and Greg Norman speaking to me both on the same day. I begged George and his wife to look at Greg Hunter’s camera as we filmed them coming down the stairs from the GP Ball or I’d lose my job without the footage. He just laughed at me! We were shooting the drivers and celebs on the golf course. The host Greg Norman, yelled at me “to get off the fucking fairway you idiot!” Talk about brushes with fame!!

Tooheys 2.2 again with Jim. We shot commercials all over the place with the hilarious Max (Tangles) Walker and Dougie Walters. Two of the best blokes you could meet in a days march.

One Ad we shot down at the basin on Pittwater. I think it was the first time we were featuring throwdowns (remember those small glass bottles that you couldn’t tell if they were half full or half empty) instead of cans. Douggie didn’t like 2.2 too much, preferring VB so overnight I soaked the labels of a dozen VB throwdowns and glued 2.2 labels on. So in the drinking shots Dougie was drinking VB (haha)

Commercial shoots can be boring as bat shit most of the time but with Tangles and Dougie it was always entertaining. When I started working with Graeme Woodlock we were allocated the OTC account. We shot in 7 countries and went round the world twice during 12 non-stop weeks. 4 weeks for the rece and pre pro and 8 to shoot. One day in Venice Jontie Baraud, the producer from Silver Screen and I drove out to the airport to pick up the client. We were sitting in the hired Merc waiting in the car park when a bloke sat on the bonnet and proceeded to read a newspaper. He was waiting too. Jontie whispered to me “That’s Pete Townsend.” I had the door open in a flash but was restrained by Jontie saying to let him have his space. But my wife Diana is in love with Pete Townsend. I said, She’ll kill me if I don’t get an autograph. I didn’t get one and she killed me!! I did the storyboard for that shoot on the road as we went. It amounted to over 300 frames and photos. I still have them with me today. I was doing a lot of storyboards and in those days plus we were encouraged to learn to direct. I directed a couple of low budget studio commercials for Scratch Lotteries with a real director to babysit me through it (thanks Tony Dick). Essentially though, we were calling the shots (No pun).

Vaughan Campbell worked at Mojo with John Wermutt . Vaughan was an art director who could draw really well, Werms was a seasoned writer and great muso. Vaughan was a long blonde haired surfer from the northern beaches and we became great mates. I can’t remember when Vaughan and I decided to set up a shop of our own specialising in storyboards but at the time it seemed like a natural progression.

We had a great network of mates who wanted us to work with them on their scripts. Our studio was in probably one of the world’s most beautiful spots, right on the water next to the 16 foot Skiff Club at the Spit above the boatshed on Sydney’s Middle harbour. If we hadn’t landed a job that day (No pun intended) we’d go fishing. We called the business The Buoys (pun intended) and when I relocated to home and worked alone from there the business became “One Of the Buoys. Now I’m the lefthandgun and share my beautiful studio with a two and a half metre Coastal Carpet Python named Slim. I feed him once a month on a large rat or rabbit. He doesn’t bark, jump up and down or leave hair all over the place (like Vaughan) and he’s 15 years old.”

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Image: Slim

CTL: “Where did Left Hand Gun come from?”

GUNNA: “No surprises there. I was already called Gunna courtesy of Peter McGill. I’m left handed and a big fan of Westerns. It came from the Paul Newman movie, The Left Handed Gun and so I became The Left Hand Gun Storyboards.

CTL: “You have a well earned reputation for providing boards you can actually shoot?”

GUNNA: “The MOJO experience taught me the reality of what a camera sees and so I can imagine the transition from storyboard to shooting. There’s no point drawing something that will look good at the presentation but you know it will never work on set. I made a decision when computers first arrived that I was going to stick with drawings. That’s not to dismiss Photoshop and the like but for me storyboards have to have soul and only by using pencils can that happen … storyboards have to flow so the story can emerge and you can get a feel for what is supposed to happen on film. I’m known for my dramatic use of directional arrows. (Laughs) Adrian Haywood, (Award winning Director) would send me his director’s scribbles with circles for heads and little stick figure arms but the composition was just so beautiful. I’d draw those up so you could see and appreciate the detail. That was a really good way to work because there was real communication and an understanding of what the finished result should look like. If I have a criticism of now it’s that nobody ever seems to have any time. Rarely do I get to speak to the originator of the idea and am usually briefed by a third party which means, even with the best intentions in the world, something is going to get lost in translation. I took a brief a while back that was pretty much exactly the same as a job I’d done three months earlier. I had to ring the creative director and gingerly explain that maybe another idea was required. Success I think is all about communication and understanding. And talent.”

CTL: “Warren Brown says of you – If the emotion of an idea is more important than a ‘superficial’ look you can’t go past Gunna. Talk to him nicely and he’ll even let you ruin his weekend.”

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Image: Emotion by Gunna

GUNNA: “Yes that was pretty nice of Warren and it goes to what I was saying earlier. Somehow, if you’re using pencils you feel closer to the idea. The pencil is just an extension of your brain that lets the thoughts transfer onto paper. It’s not just capturing the content it’s the mood as well. And commercially, you have to be available when the job, for whatever reason, needs to be done. Because I’ve been doing this for quite a while a lot of clients are friends too so you want to do a great job for them and I love what I do.”

CTL: “Any ambitions to have a Gearside hanging in the Tate?”

GUNNA: “It’s never been my ambition. Lot’s of people say to me Gunna why don’t you paint or draw this and that. But if I have to sit down and look for purpose in drawing a particular subject … it doesn’t happen for me. With storyboards I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and what’s expected when it’s done. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.”

CTL: “But you supported the Advertising Art Auction, started by Terry McCart all those years ago where art directors & copywriters donate work to raise money for the Children’s Hospital.

GUNNA: “I did. It was a portrait of Mo. Naturally Mo’s wife Lisa bought that one. Sadly the auction is no more. So if there’s anyone out there who would like to resurrect it, it was good fun for a very good cause  ”

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Image: Painting of Allan Morris for painting of 1993 adverting Art Auction

CTL: “Thank you so much for you time. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.”

To see more of Pauls work and testimonials go to www.lefthandgun.com.au

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